Saturday, June 30, 2007

More Crops!

We harvested one of our potato plants today. This crop turned out much better than our ill-fated first attempt. We reaped 8 potatoes of moderate size, 2 small ones, and about 20 tiny ones, which made us wonder how many potatoes we could have gotten out of this plant. A normal harvest, according to our Burpee book, is 8-12 normal-sized potatoes, so we probably did fine. They're a little bit pink, and the potato we planted was red ... we aren't sure what that's all about.

This plant is about a month ahead of the rest of them, but the remaining plants took forever to sprout. We just learned that some potatoes from the grocery store are sprayed with a "growth inhibitor" to limit sprouting -- we think that's what happened with the laggards. We also found out there are actually special seed potatoes you can buy. Lesson learned for next time.

The latest crop of potatoes is now "curing" in the kitchen. We'll cook them up later this week.

At left, you can see the potatoes measured against a nickel for scale.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Breaking Up With the Dry Cleaner

Steve usually takes care of dropping off and picking up the dry cleaning. But, as with everything else, when Steve went to Iraq, I assumed the duty. After a few weeks, there was an odd exchange. The elderly Chinese lady at the counter looked at the name on the ticket and said, "Where you husband?"

"He's out of town for a while," I said vaguely and managed a wan smile.

"He so nice," she said as she handed me my dry cleaning. As I walked out of the shop, I felt like maybe I had noticed an emphasis on the "he," as in "HE's so nice, so why aren't you?" But I convinced myself that I was imagining it. Certainly, she couldn't have anything against me. She hardly knew me.

A couple of weeks later, I returned to the shop. Same story, but with increased hostility. "Where you husband?"

"He's out of the country for a few months," I offered.

"He come back?" she demanded. Her tone undeniably held the accusation that I had driven him off.

"Yes, yes, he'll be back in the summer."

"HE so nice," she glared at me.

I hadn't imagined it. She hated me. What the hell? I always had my ticket, paid my bill, said thank you. Clearly that wasn't enough for her. So I broke up with them -- I started going to the place across the street, which did a much better job at a lower price.

But when Steve came back, he reassumed the dry cleaning duty and began patronizing the hateful old lady again. He took my clothes there and I turned a blind eye. But now, I have to draw the line.

They shrank my seersucker pants.

It's over.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Overheard on the Elevator This Morning

"We sent Scott so many emails yesterday that his filter started classifying us as spam."

Poor Scott.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Antiques Roadshow Tips

1) There are many ways to get tickets. We didn't win our tickets through the free lottery (although we tried, as did several family members on our behalf), and we didn't buy them from a scalper on eBay. Thanks to my friend Beth, we discovered that by donating $200 to become a member of Maryland Public Television, we could get 2 VIP tickets to the Roadshow. Most tickets assign you an arrival time, but the VIP tickets allow you to show up whenever you want between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The whole cost of the tickets is tax-deductible, since they are technically free (but given as a "thank you" for membership), and you get to feel virtuous for supporting public TV.

2) If you can, get there early. The appraiser who looked at Steve's sword implied that he would have put it on the list for a TV appearance, but he had already "pitched" a couple of items. It seems that the appraisers want to get on TV just as much as the attendees, amid much competition, so they try to get on the show's radar early in the day.

3) Wear sneakers. Most of the Roadshow experience entails waiting in line. You wait in line until the top of the hour to enter. Then you wait in line to get to check in, where they assign you your appraiser tables with little tickets for each item you bring (each person can bring two items -- and you have to bring at least one item if you want to enter). You then wait in lines for each of your items, at one of the 35-40 appraisal tables organized by category. In all, we were in line for over three hours.

4) Eat a hearty meal first. There happened to be a Starbucks outside the convention center entrance, but it didn't matter, because no food or drink is allowed on the Roadshow set. Luckily, our time there fit squarely between breakfast and lunch, or I might have had a low-blood-sugar freakout.

For the formal FAQ from the show itself, go here.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I Will Look at Your Treasures Now, Gypsy

Last weekend, Steve and I went to the Antiques Roadshow in Baltimore. We brought the following "treasures":
  • One heavy bronze pot from Borneo (brought back by my mom in the 1960s)
  • One letter from the last Spanish viceroy to Colombia in an ornate frame
  • One painting of the C&O Canal
  • One battered Civil War sword with scabbard
We arrived at the convention center with our stuff at 8:40 a.m. with our fancy VIP tickets, obtained through a $200 donation to Maryland Public Television. We made our way past a lone Starbucks and down a few flights of stairs to the windowless event hall.

Most people are assigned an entry time on the hour. Ours was up to us, thanks to the special tickets. By arriving at 8:40 a.m., we were funneled into the 10 a.m. line -- apparently you had to be there by 8:30 a.m. to be funneled into the 9 a.m. line. We were in for an hour and a half of shuffling forward, chatting with those near us in the long, long line.

Most of the interactions involved people showing Steve their own swords and asking about his (he played it close to the vest, telling the strangers only "it's 19th century"). A few people approached us and inspected the Spanish document, trying to read it. The archaic version of Spanish, combined with a sloppy cursive apparently written with a quill pen, made deciphering the document close to impossible. At the front of the line, we were sent to a table for tickets to the individual appraisal tables (of which there were maybe 35-40).

We finally made our way to the entrance to the Roadshow set, which was surrounded by tall blue curtains. Photos on the set were not allowed. The set was much smaller than it looks on TV. It was very cramped, easily smaller than a basketball court, with the appraiser tables around the perimeter and a large portion of the center reserved for the on-camera appraisals. Attendees were prohibited from walking through the center. The lines for the more popular tables (such as pottery, paintings, and jewelry in particular) snaked around the edge of the room, blocking access to the less-popular tables.

As luck would have it, we entered the set at the Arms and Militaria table. A young blond appraiser saw Steve coming with his sword and reached out his arm. "I can take your sword over here, sir," he said with a soft southern accent. We approached the table, and the appraiser's eyes started twinkling. He asked Steve where the sword came from, and Steve told him it had been in his family and was said to be a sword used by a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. The appraiser nodded and told us it was known as a "dogrun sword" (we can't find this on the Internet so we wonder if we heard him wrong -- we're looking into it) and was a common Confederate knockoff of a popular Union sword. The appraiser admired the scabbard in particular, telling us that you rarely find a scabbard intact. He told us a few more tidbits, and then came the big moment: "Do you know what the value of this sword might be?"

I could not believe he asked us that -- it was just like being on TV! I became visibly excited as Steve tried to remain cool, randomly throwing out a number. "Maybe $500?" The appraiser grinned widely. "A sword like this, if it were to come to auction, would easily go for $2,500 to $3,500. If you got it restored, it would be worth at least $7,000." WOW. He then offered the following interesting trivia: even though Steve's sword is a copy of a Union sword, the Union sword is worth much less -- only $500. "It's a really cool sword," the appraiser said. "Not cool enough for TV, though, huh?" Steve asked. "Well," the appraiser said, "I actually already pitched a couple of items. But your sword is really cool."

We thanked the appraiser and rushed off happily to the next stations. Steve saw a long line for the documents and manuscripts table, so he went over to that (for his Colombian document) while I got in line at the Asian Art table. Right before Steve left, he pointed to one guy with a bowtie and said, "he's really famous -- he's on TV all the time." So 10 minutes later I found myself in front of the bowtie guy and handed him the bronze pot from Borneo. It's actually in three pieces -- a stand, a top, and the round body. The appraiser pointed out that the stand didn't match the top or the body, and told me that it was a food preparation object, and was about 100 years old. My interpretation is that it was the equivalent of a primitive Borneo fondue pot. He handed it back to me in pieces and I thought to ask how much it was worth. "About $50," he said dryly. Man, was I embarrassed. So embarrassed that, as I started putting the pieces of the pot back in my bag, I dropped the top. Being bronze, it resonated loudly as it hit the appraiser's table. BOOOONNNNNGGGG! Amid a chorus of stares, I grabbed the top and shoved it in my bag, saying something lame like "the good thing about bronze is that it doesn't break easily" as I fled the scene.

I found Steve preparing to talk to the manuscripts guy, who, it turns out, didn't speak Spanish so he couldn't determine the value of the document. He did say it looked great and he admired the frame. Our last item was the C&O canal painting, so we prepared for a long wait in the paintings line.

Meanwhile, the host, Mark Walberg, was taping promos for the program in between signing autographs for eager fans. He had a small patch of carpet set aside for his work, and between tapings, he practiced his speaking. "EDgar ALlen POE, one of BALtimore's FAmous SONS," he boomed, pacing around the carpet. "POE. POE. EDgar. EDgar. EDgar ALlen POE." He came off as a big loser, with his TV smile and his emphatic vocal practicing, surrounded by the cacophony that is the Roadshow set.

The paintings line snaked forward, and we saw a few more treasures in passing. One woman's alligator bag -- complete with alligator-head clasp and little alligator arms -- had been appraised at $1,200. The woman behind us in line said she'd had one too and had thrown hers out because it was ugly. I can't say I'd pay $1,200 for that, but one man's trash is another man's treasure, right?

In an anticlimactic finish, our painting was worth about what we paid for it, which was $300. The appraiser said something to the effect of, "Well, when I saw you coming up with your painting, I thought, we might have something here. It looked bright and had a sparkle. But it doesn't hold up to a close inspection." We still like it though -- nobody will be shining a florescent light on the painting while it's on the wall at our house.

It was about 11:45 a.m. when we found ourselves fleeing for the exit. There was noplace to talk about your Roadshow experience as there seems to have been in prior years. (There had been a booth on the way in, but who wants to talk about their stuff then? Especially since it just means you'd fall farther and farther behind in line for entry as you waited to film your bit.) I sat under the Roadshow banner while Steve went to use the restroom, and I called my mom to tell her about her pot.

Below, Steve with his sword and document under the big banner at the exit.

Incidentally, we think the Roadshow misses a major opportunity for merchandise sales. There were no t-shirts, mugs, nothing for sale at all. We definitely would have bought a t-shirt or something. As it was, the only way to get a shirt was to sign up to be contacted regarding a home-equity loan or something like that. No thanks.

We then climbed out of the bowels of the convention center into the bright summer sun, and spent the rest of the day out and about in Baltimore. In the evening, we went with our friends Annie and Patrick to the historic Wharf Rat pub on Ann Street in Fell's Point, the older sibling of the shiny new Wharf Rat by Camden Yards. We highly recommend this Fell's Point bar, which has been in business for more than 200 years and has seen a lot of changes. The ales have been featured in Bon Appetit and on the Food Network. It also had a men's room that Steve found astounding -- but that's a story we'll save for a different day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Like a Kid on Christmas Morning

This is another story from way back.

I used to live on a quaint tree-lined street of brownstones in Brooklyn, NY. One weekend in Summer 2001, Steve came up to visit from his Naval station in Norfolk, VA. He got the best parking space he'd ever gotten in Brooklyn, right in front of my house.

That Sunday, we returned from brunch and found two ambulances and three police cars on the block, one flipped-over rented Jeep Cherokee, one psychotic driver of said Jeep, one totalled Saturn parked in front of Steve's car, and Steve's Ford Contour with several additional contours and minus one passenger-side mirror. It was driveable, but not in good shape.

Word on the street was that the driver of the flipped Jeep was on three depression medications, including Lithium. The cops were trying to figure out if they could arrest her for reckless driving but they didn't because they couldn't determine if she wasn't supposed to be driving while on the meds. (Personally, I thought the evidence spoke for itself, but who am I to say?) She was screaming profanity at the police, who were just trying to help. After some psychotic rocking on someone's stoop, she slumped over unconscious, but not as a result of injuries.

Thankfully, she did have insurance.

The person who owned the totalled Saturn was completely AWOL. That car had been pushed up on the sidewalk by the impact of the Jeep. It had at least one flat tire on the passenger side, and the plastic passenger side panel was pretty much gone. The car had Minnesota plates, implying that the owner was either just visiting or a new arrival to the area. The police put a note on the car. Talk about an unpleasant surprise.

And the car was in a Tuesday spot. By this I mean the owner had to move the car by 8am Tuesday for street cleaning.

On Tuesday, I woke up at 7:40am like a kid on Christmas morning. I ran to the window to see if the Saturn owner had come to move it yet. He hadn't. I opened the window and hurried to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I rushed back to my window to see a fresh-faced young man in a white dress shirt, tie and khakis approaching the unblemished sidewalk-facing side of the Saturn.

The young man stopped for a second when he saw the car, no doubt thinking, "Hmmm, I don't remember parking my car on the sidewalk." Then he opened the driver's side door, tossed his bright blue new backpack in the backseat, and got in the driver's seat, closing the door behind him. I held my breath in suspense as I watched him back out of the space and start off, but he got no more than six feet before stopping and backing neatly into the space he'd just tried to vacate. He'd finally realized something was wrong.

He perfectly parallel-parked the car, and got out and walked around to the passenger side. He stood in shock for a moment, and I could see his shoulders sag. His hand went up to his chin, in a "huh -- what the heck do I do now?" pose. He did not see the note on the window that the police had left for him.

In the grandest of Brooklyn traditions, I was about to yell out my window to tell him about the police note under his wiper when my neighbors came running outside. (Clearly, I wasn't the only neighborhood denizen watching the drama play out.) I heard the young man say in a daze, "Someone hit me." The dad neighbor ran around to the front of the car and picked up the police note, handing it to the young man. I saw the dad neighbor gesturing behind the Saturn to where Steve's Ford had been hit, then making looping motions with his arms and pointing in front of the Saturn to a pile of broken glass left there by the flipped Jeep. The men spoke briefly in low tones.

Then I saw the young man walk back to the drivers' side, open the door, remove his backpack from the back seat, and walk away, waving to the neighbors. It was 7:57am. I went to take a shower. By 8:30am the car had been towed.

Just another day on Sackett Street.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Most Embarrassing Moment -- Cat Hands!

I had to give a presentation today at work. It was really informal, but I was nervous nonetheless. I always am. I blame my nerves on an incident in (of course) my junior high years.

During the summer between 8th and 9th grade, I enrolled in a weeklong "Drama Camp" with a couple of my dramatic friends. I was never much of an actress, but I did have a tendency to enroll myself in various summer camps, so there I was. It ended up being all about the musical theater. I can sing, but I'm not much of a dancer.

Most of the 100 or so campers had been attending Drama Camp for at least a couple of years. Girls outnumbered boys about 8 to 1. As a newcomer, I was immediately among the uncool. The director's daughter Nina was clearly the golden child of the attendees, and was called upon (by the director) to demonstrate each and every acting technique, musical interpretation, and dance move. She did so with joy and gusto. I had conflicting emotions, feeling that Nina had delusions of grandeur, and feeling that I was way out of my league.

I did ok in the voice portions of the camp, but my inherent uncoolness in those surroundings kept me from trying out for a solo. I muddled through the acting workshops, crashing and burning with such flair in the improvisational portions that I actually earned praise. And there was dance. Well, dance is not my thing, as I mentioned. When the dance instructor asked us to separate into two groups, experienced and inexperienced, I happily joined the latter. We spent many hours learning a routine to a song from Cats.

I just looked the song up on iTunes. I knew I'd recognize it if I heard it again, even though I didn't know the name at the time. Turns out the song was a piano instrumental of The Jellicle Ball. It's perky and jazzy. (Listen to a clip here.) Just the song if you want to have 100 campers leaping around on stage making cat hands.

(Even today, 19 years later, hearing that song drives a stab of fear through my heart.)

In dance class, I carefully chose a spot toward the back, and learned the little routine. I conscientiously paid attention when the dance instructor chose a "cue" girl. When this girl ran on, the inexperienced group was supposed to join her. We never did a runthrough of the whole number, but the instructor seemed satisfied.

So recital day came around and hundreds of parents arrived to see what their tuition check had wrought. Some songs from Once Upon a Mattress went well, with the director's daughter Nina in starring roles, again and again. She's in love with a girl named Fred and all that. Toss in some Les Miserables. We all stalked across the stage singing emphatically about the end of the day when you're another day older. Then the time came for our big dance number, and we moved to our places.

It started strong, with the experienced dancers on stage first. I saw the "cue" girl preparing to enter and I readied myself for our big moment. The chorus ended and the experienced dancers began to cat-leap off the stage. Cat hands! Cat hands! I followed the cue girl onto the stage, cat-leaping. Cat hands!

As the fray of experienced cat leaps dissipated, I cat-leaped forward, per the routine. Then I looked around. Somehow, instead of 40 or so inexperienced dancers on stage, there were ... four.

We stood, nearly paralyzed on stage, through an entire verse, our faux paws poised in front of our chests. I later viewed my parents' videotape of the debacle and realized that our moves were confined to panicked sidelong glances at one another and tiny, abortive cat-hand swipes. As the second verse neared, I debated fleeing, but realized I'd look a lot better if I at least did the remainder of the routine. Own it, Megan! Own it.

Cat hands! Cat hands! Step step step! Cat leap! Cat hands! Cat leap off the stage! THANK GOD.

I burst into tears as I reached the stage wings. Meanwhile, the dance instructor yelled "EVERYONE!" and both groups ran on stage, sans the four of us who'd just run off. But other than the cat hands, the two routines were very different. As I wept off stage, dancers began leaping into each other. Cat hands! Collisions! Bad falls! A complete disaster.

I don't even know how it ended. But it was, without a doubt, my most embarrassing moment. And it decisively ended my dramatic career.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tooling Around All Groggy

My first trip out of the house, post-surgery, was a trip Friday night to the all-organic Elevation Burger, which always seems like a great idea prior to the schlep to Falls Church, and seems like less of a great idea after waiting 15 minutes for our food and driving all the way home as the burgers cool in their paper sack. I made the trip more complicated with my delayed reaction times. Steve doesn't really know the way there, and since it's near my former office, I usually give directions there and back. This time, they went like this:

Me: That was the exit we just passed.

Me: We just drove by the entrance to the Beltway.

Me (as we speed down the right lane): We're supposed to turn left here.

I was definitely still showing some effects from being anesthesized 33 hours earlier.

On Saturday, the big outing was a trip to Giant to get some pine nuts for some homemade pesto. It was late afternoon when we pulled into the parking lot, and the sun was streaming in the car window. Steve looked over and said, "golden hair," reaching out to touch my wayward, unstyled locks. At that point, "Sister Golden Hair" by America started going through my head.

Well I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damn depressed
That I set my sights on Monday and I got myself undressed
I ain't ready for the altar but I do agree there's times
When a woman sure can be a friend of mine

Well, I keep on thinkin' 'bout you, Sister Golden Hair surprise
And I just can't live without you; can't you see it in my eyes?
I been one poor correspondent, and I been too, too hard to find
But it doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind

Will you meet me in the middle, will you meet me in the air?
Will you love me just a little, just enough to show you care?
Well I tried to fake it, I don't mind sayin', I just can't make it

Well, I keep on thinkin' 'bout you, Sister Golden Hair surprise
And I just can't live without you; can't you see it in my eyes?
Now I been one poor correspondent, and I been too, too hard to find
But it doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind

Will you meet me in the middle, will you meet me in the air?
Will you love me just a little, just enough to show you care?
Well I tried to fake it, I don't mind sayin', I just can't make it

That night, after we ate some blackened chicken and pasta with homemade pesto, we were listening to some music, and what should come on but Sister Golden Hair. At the chorus I reached for Steve's hand and pulled him up to dance a bit. I thought it might lift my spirits.

And then along came Wendy. Our quiet little beagle came trotting up and actually started barking and happily pattering around with us, completing a little family triangle. Such as it is.

What Is This Blog?

It seems to me that the most interesting blogs stick to one subject ... mine is bouncing among a few unrelated topics. I don't want to write a miscarriage/infertility blog. That would be far too depressing. So what's this thing about? Why would anyone care what I have to say?

I need to find a new focus.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Moving On

My D and C on Thursday apparently went fine. I'm tired and crampy, but ok. I bled a LOT the evening after the procedure -- like pour a pitcher of red kool-aid in the toilet bleeding -- but since then it's been minor.

I waver between believing the line about bad luck, and wanting to know what went wrong. Since Dr. Mango turned out to be a huge @sshole, I won't be finding out any information from the procedure. (It's often possible to determine if there were genetic abnormalities in the embryo, which would mean the miscarriage wasn't due to anything my body did.) Dr. Mango also refused to provide me with any painkillers after the procedure. HATE him.

So what's next? I have no idea. So much for a "miracle of life" blog.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Cheesecake Adventure

Steve pointed out this morning that we haven't made any exotic food in at least a week. But I did make a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake from scratch yesterday. So that's something. It was quite tasty. I also liked that it was smooth, tangy and not too sweet.

I'd never made a cheesecake before, so this was the maiden voyage for my springform pan. What a pain in the butt. Not sure when I'll make a cheesecake again, unless I really want to impress someone.

I used this recipe for the crust, and this recipe for the cheesecake.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Waiting Continues

Had another appointment with Dr. Mango. He didn't seem to check any new blood tests (although he ordered another one) and he didn't do another ultrasound. He suggested a D&C and I agreed. He gave me the same lame speech about getting pregnant again, and I interrupted. "I know the schpiel." Just let me out of here.

Then I walked around all day with my cell phone, waiting to hear when the D&C would be scheduled. Of course, they never called.

I'm getting tired of even writing about this. It's been two weeks since it stopped growing. Time to get it out.